There are few things in life that I envy. But seeing and hearing a group of high calibre musicians playing together always hits the spot. There is something magical about the relationship between a collection of instruments, in the hands of musicians of wildly differing ages, joining together to create magic for a moment in time. I find it very emotional and always wished that I was amongst them to experience that sense of oneness.
I am a great fan of the BBC Four series Transatlantic Session, now unbelievably in its sixteenth year. Its musical directors are Aly Bain, the great folk fiddle player and the multi talented dobro king Jerry Douglas. They bring together a group of Celtic connected musicians from Ireland, Britain and America...
Jerry and Aly
They all stay in an old farmhouse, deep in the highlands of Scotland, and weave their magical musical connections. At its best it is sublime. What I love about it is their overriding manifesto rule for all taking part, ‘Leave your ego at the door’, and they seem to do just that. It comes through and is an utter pleasure.
Sadly we designers cannot experience the same close creative collaboration in the moment or indeed our friends the illustrators. Theatrical ensemble actors get very close to it. But musicians have the lion's share of this special closeness. Here are two links to Transatlantic Sessions that I particularly like. Give them a whirl. The first is the delightful singer Eddi Reader singing Aye Waukin-O, with Paul Brady on backing vocals.
The second features Liam O’Maonlai, the one time lead singer in Irish band Hothouse Flowers – for whom I designed an album cover and spent a slightly bizarre afternoon with Liam in the Portland Turkish baths followed by and evening at the opera. But more of that another time.
But here he is singing the self penned beautiful heartfelt ballad Worry Not. His backing singers are Martha Wainwright Emily Smith and Mairead Mhadnaigh.
In June 2009 the number of words in the English language hit 1,000,000. In 2010 another 33,322 were added. I feel pretty sure that a great many should have been jettisoned. This post is all about words.
Here are some…
“. . . invents puzzles out of nonsequiturs to seek congruence in seemingly incongruous situations, whether visual or spatial . . . inhabits those interstitial spaces between understanding and confusion.”
Did you get any of that? Don’t worry neither did I. It is from a Whitney Biennial exhibition programme. It goes on…
“In voicing the void, Kapoor returns us to the discourse of the diagonal. How does the transitional nature of true making—spatially out of balance, temporally in between—relate to the myth of ‘originality’?”
The above, by Homi K Bhabha on the artist Anish Kapoor, was awarded first prize in the Philosophy and LiteratureBad Writing Contest and well deserved too.
This example of art/philosophical gobbledegook is just one of many areas where incomprehensibility is the order of the day. The name of the game is to keep the layperson well at bay by using obscure, complex and often invented words to isolate them behind a linguistic barrier.
The veteran interviewer and journalist John Humphries has long campaigned against the use of corporate speak with its, Synergy, Going forward, Strategically targeting,connecting ear-to-ear, Leveraging, Touching base, Customer centric etc, etc, in his excellent book Lost for Words: The Mangling and Manipulating of the English Language – really worth a read.
The granddaddy of gobbledygook has to be Legalese - an English term first used in early 20th century for legal writing. A prose style intended to be difficult for mere laymen to comprehend, the implication being that its abstruseness is intentional in order to shut out the legally untrained and for justifying the excessively high fees. Believe me I know this to be true. Don’t get divorced – especially twice. I never did get the hang of the Applicant or the Respondent. All this got me thinking about other professions who hide behind this verbal subdiffusion.
Having recently had to undergo a procedure in hospital - don’t get me wrong the medical profession are wonderful, but the language they use is completely anti-patient. It is bad enough having to go into hospital. First you have to endure dehumanizing effect of a bum revealing gown followed by an onslaught of alienating lingo e.g. Oncology (cancer), Paediatrics (children) Geriatric (elderly), Neurology (brain), Cardiology (heart) etc. The list is endless and disturbing.
You may recall a few years ago that a Paediatrician was hounded by a hostile bunch of (admittedly thick) residents who had mistakenly taken his professional name to mean ‘paedophile’. Would that have happened had he simply been called a children’s doctor? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the BMA decide to revolutionise their archaic terminology in favour of the patient (sorry I think the hospital management side prefer the term customer these days). We all know they never will as it would be well, too understandable, and we can’t have that.
Recently the FT business journalist Lucy Kellaway had a wonderful rant about bad copy writing in the technology world. She sighted Microsoft’s abysmal jargon riddled copy when introducing their new browser software.
“…delivers a richer, faster, and more business-ready Web experience. Architected to run HTML 5, the beta enables developers to utilise standardised mark-up language across multiple browsers”.
But Kellaway did single out Apple for their clear and witty use of language in the set of guidelines written for their apps sold at the App Store.
“We have over 250,000 apps in the App Store. We don’t need any more Fart apps. If your app doesn’t do something useful or provide some form of lasting entertainment, it may not be accepted.”
Simple, understandable, direct and witty. Why can’t all copy be like that? That’s why I’m Mac and not PC.
Innocent drinks is another a company who not only take care with their writing but positively delight when talking to their customers. They have made sterling efforts to be jargon free in all of their well-chosen words. From bottle and carton labels to TV and print advertisements and shareholder reports.
Now that's the way to talk to people
Even their Annual General Meetings seem very human. You can watch one at the end of this post.
When I worked in publishing during the late 60’s and 70’s we still called books, well, good old books. And authors where just authors. Now books are units and authors brands.
Just the other day I heard a schoolteacher describing to her pupils efforts as ‘up skilling’ for the future. And even our gas bills are littered with jargon like calorific value and normal primary units.
But what has depressed me most in recent years is way this verbiage has insidiously woven its way in my own profession, the world of design. Not only do design companies now have strategy directors, planners, project managers, client facing managers, new business development directors etc but we have to put up with a new and quiet ridiculous language - customer focused, strategically targeted, leveraging client potential, brand enhancing,refreshing,Future proofing,blah de blah de blah. You can no longer just have print items, it now has to be print collateral. It is worthwhile browsing the websites of design groups to read the utter tripe they use to describe themselves and their services. It is very revealing.
I think you need a little break. Watch this 6 min TED talk by Alan Siegel.
It is inevitable for a young design group to want to expand and grow into a mature group (consultancy). When that happens the original DIY hand to mouth spirit tends to change and with it goes the friendly often-witty and human language used. The founders quietly move into his or her own office and those once spontaneous meetings tend to stop. Email is used more, even if the person being addressed is only 2 meters away. Things become increasingly impersonal. The camaraderie fades along with the urgent passion for true innovation, giving way to the search for ‘serious’ corporate work. It is usually a downhill path from there.
Suddenly you notice that there are more organisers than designers. Where did they come from? Designers are removed from the client presentation process. The principles no longer fight the battles, instead they empower others to do their bidding and cowardly hide in their offices in the misguided belief that they are thought of as important.
My point is that all this jargon is inhuman and is used to hood wink clients and to promote a sense of pseudo importance within companies. Direct, open and most of all understandable language says a lot about a company and its people.
So if your boss emails you to attend a Blue Skyconcept meeting or they are far keener on entering the DBA’s Design Effectiveness Awards than D&AD you’ll know it’s time to think about moving on, sorry moving forward.
In 2007 D&AD sent out an oversized pizza box containing a bright yellow satin flag brandishing their logo. It was given to a variety of D&AD members around the world. They were asked to do something snazzy with it. A selection of the results was to be featured in the 2007 annual. The whole idea rather incenses me because of its utter waste and I felt the need to protest. This was my response to D&AD’s request…
Needless to say my little effort didn’t grace the pages of the annual nor was my protest acknowledged by D&AD. But thanks to Creative Review it found a cyber audience and started to whizz around the blogosphere. I mention this because I have been thinking about the future of the D&AD Annual.
Apart from the first catalogue style annual in 1963 I have every copy of the D&AD Annual. I still treasure many of them. But as much as I love books, over the last decade the D&AD Annual has, to my mind, become redundant as a vehicle to best record the year’s creative highlights in this digital age...
You had to buy the annual in the early days. Later it was given out free to members but you had to collect it from D&AD. Later they organised a free delivery service. For those of you who are members of D&AD you will be well aware of the rapid increase in size of the annual over the past ten years. This reflects not only the new areas of design but now includes the growing international entries.
Last year’s edition of the annual weighed in at a hefty 3kg. It was delivered to me at a cost, I guess, of around £20 by one of those smartly dressed UPS drivers…
in their equally immaculate chocolate brown trucks…
I signed for it, reached for my still trusty scalpel and slashed my way through the dense cardboard protective packaging and it’s inner plastic shrink-wrapping. It left my studio floor full of debris and me holding the annual fearing a hernia under the weight. There followed a cup of coffee and a ten-minute thumb through – something I’ve done for the last two decade.
Then the tomb was snapped shut and added to my bookshelf, taking its place chronologically with its predecessors. There it will stay in quiet serenity. It was the sight of the discarded packaging and the weight of the annual that got me thinking about the sheer effort and expense to deliver this bibliographic extravaganza to my door.
Here is the DNA of the 2010 D&AD Annual…
On top of all that it travelled 10,000 miles (it was printed in China) to reach me. And all I do is give it a cursory glance as most of the images are too small and lack detail. Then it’s on the shelf with its old buddies. I am sure I am not alone in this casual act.
We are now very well bedded into the digital age (no longer ‘new media’) with its ever-increasing advances. And with a new D&AD president in office, and importantly one from a digital background I would like to pose a question. When is D&AD going to address this issue? He is my solution.
Let’s just re run that UPS delivery scenario again. The only difference is that it is now 2013 (D&AD’s 50th anniversary).
So, I open my door and am handed a slim lightweight package (only 0.68g). I open it with ease, minimal waste. It is a 4th generation iPad, slimmer, faster, bigger memory and a lot cheaper (but knowing Apple it won't be). I discover later that Apple have subsidised this new little miracle to all D&AD members (how nice of them.)...
I click on to discover that it not only has the brand spanking new 2013 Annual – where I can look at the graphics in detail and activate all of the moving imagery, sound and music – but I also have access to the previous 49 annuals as well.
That’s 50 years, 1,450 cm in length, 124kg in weight, 149cm in thickness (think of those poor bookshelves) all reduced to a digital nothingness. As for the 2014 annual? Simple. It’s a download from D&AD. No UPS delivery required (sorry UPS). No Chinese printing. No paper, board, inks, glue, plastic and only one 10,000 miles journey (everything is made in China these days) to get it to your door.
A big step for D&AD and a small carbon footprint for the creative community. (Well done D&AD.)
One of the first illustrators I became interested in - mainly due to the enthusiasm of my tutor at evening class back in the early 1960s – was David Stone Martin (1913 –1992).
David Stone Martin
His distinctive scratchy, blobby, inky line became synonymous with many jazz album covers of the 50’s and 60’s. Here is some of his work…
This lovely style, evocative of Ben Shan and Andy Warhol - when he was a commercial illustrator - influence many British artists in the late 50s like Peter Blake, Terrence Greer, Quentin Blake, John Sewell and many of the now forgotten illustrators commissioned by the Radio Times in the '60s.
But my appreciation of David Stone Martin was to become part of a wider appreciation of jazz album covers and the music itself. My older brother, Frank was a saxophonist and obsessed with modern jazz. This was the1950s and I, as a single-minded teenager, was only interested in the pop artists of the day – Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Conway Twitty, and The Drifters etc. But more often than not I would wake up to the complex musicality of Gerry Mulligan, Miles Davies, MJQ, Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins and a great many classical recordings also filtered their way to my room. It emanated from a Dansette record player in my brother’s bedroom…
Initially loathing this seemingly meaningless assault on my ears, it gradually took rote and permeated into my soul.
It became the catalyst to a far wider musical appreciation and curiosity than I would otherwise have had. I began to realise that being open to all things was the way to have a far more enriching life. This openness became my private mantra. Even though I find much of what is going on today difficult and frustrating I still hold on to that openness and sense of curiosity that started back in the 50s.
Anyway enough about me. Here are some of the jazz, classical and other album covers of the pure graphic variety that I much appreciated when they were still a big blowsy 12 inches square. Many by the considerable talent on Rudolph de Harak (1924 –2002)
The following run of covers by Rudolph de Harak
The next three are by Sam Suliman
I don't know who designed the next two but I love them.
For more on Sam Suliman , Rudolph de Harak and much more go to this great album cover site.